TAMPA — It might have been Michael Johnson, their new starting right defensive end. Or Brandon Myers, their new starting tight end. Or maybe even Josh McCown, their new starting quarterback.
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht couldn't say for sure Wednesday who he would have had to pass on among Tampa Bay's newly signed free agents, only that he would have had to pass on someone had he held on to cornerback Darrelle Revis for even one more day.
“It had nothing to do with system — nothing,'' Licht said of releasing Revis on Wednesday, less than a year after the team acquired him in a blockbuster trade with the New York Jets. “What it had to do with is the (five) guys that we have (signed) here so far in free agency. We wouldn't have been able to do all of this if there weren't certain transactions that happened.''
After adding four new players within hours of the start of free agency on Tuesday, Tampa Bay signed McCown to a two-year, $10 million contract on Wednesday, anointing him the starter in 2014.
Johnson, Myers, cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald were introduced at a news conference Wednesday at One Buc Place, and another is scheduled today for McCown.
The transactions Licht spoke of included the release last weekend of right guard Davin Joseph, which saved $6 million. The release of Revis, though, was the biggest, saving $16 million in annual salary cap space.
Licht tried to restructure the final five years of the $96 million contract Revis signed when he joined the Bucs in April. When that failed, he tried to trade Revis, but a serious bidder never materialized.
So, the Bucs were left with no choice but to cut Revis, who reportedly came to terms on a one-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots.
“We exhausted all avenues,'' Licht said. “But in the end, and I'll leave it at this, we just came up empty.''
But just how empty are the Bucs? Based on what they accomplished in less than 48 hours of free agency, they do not appear to have come up empty at all.
Not only did they bolster the pass rush with Johnson and McDonald, they also signed Revis' replacement in 2013 Pro Bowler Verner and boosted the tight end position with Myers. All are expected to start at their respective positions.
And by moving Revis on Wednesday, the Bucs held on to their third-round pick in this year's draft, instead sending their fourth-round pick to the Jets as the final piece of compensation in last year's trade, which also included Tampa Bay's 2013 first-round pick.
And don't think for a second the Bucs are going to waste the $16 million in cap space they recovered in releasing Revis. Licht has plenty of plans for that.
“We're not done,'' Licht said of signing free agents. “We have all the respect in the world for Darrelle. But we're building a team here, and no one person can have the impact that four, five, six, seven or eight can.''
Eight? Well, at one point Wednesday there were at least eight free agents visiting One Buc Place, including former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, former Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith and former Bengals tackle Anthony Collins. Former Patriots middle linebacker Dane Fletcher and former Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. dropped by for visits, as well. Former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders might visit today.
“It's been pretty exciting,'' Licht said. “But we're not simply talent collectors. We're trying to find the right fits. And with the guys we've (signed), we feel we've found the right fits.''
The feeling was obviously mutual.
Johnson, who played his first five seasons with the Bengals, spoke glowingly about the opportunity to play for coach Lovie Smith and on the same line as two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“Coach Smith and his staff, they're good people,'' said Johnson, who has 26.5 career sacks. “And I believe that good things come from good people. So, there's going to be a lot of great things coming this way, so just hold on to your seat.''
A seat is precisely what quarterback Mike Glennon is about to take. After starting 13 games as a rookie last year, he has already been unseated by McCown, who won three of five starts with the Bears last season in place of injured starter Jay Cutler.
“There has to be a starting spot, a starting point, a starting person that goes out there first and at quarterback for us, that's going to be Josh,'' Smith said.
“And yes, we let Mike know exactly what we were doing. For a young player like Mike Glennon, it can only help him to be around a guy who has been through all the things that Josh McCown has been through. So it is only going to make our quarterback position stronger.''
They also believe their pass rush has improved through the additions of Johnson and McDonald, who had 5.5 sacks with Super Bowl champion Seattle last year.
Even without Revis, they think the secondary could be stronger with the addition of Verner, 25, who led the AFC in pass breakups (22) and interceptions (five) last year.
“We looked at him on tape and he excited both Lovie and I with what he can do in this defense,'' Licht said of Verner. “Lovie has a strong place in his heart for takeaways, and that was definitely one thing that stood out.''
Myers has proved to be a standout, as well. In the past two years, he produced at virtually the same rate as Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, catching 126 passes for 1,328 yards and eight touchdowns compared to Gates' 126 catches for 1,406 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“This organization has brought in a great group of guys, some great talent,'' Myers said. “And I'm excited to be here and to be a part of things as we start to build our way back up.”
“Coach Smith and I had a good conversation about that, and about how it starts now and how we're trying to get back to where everyone wants to be, and it was that conversation that really kind of solidified my decision to come here.''
Without the release of Revis, that conversation might not have taken place.